Interreligious dialogue and integration
Reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV gives us an idea of the direction of public sentiment in Italy and more generally in the EU. Terrorist attacks continue to feed a general fear towards Islam whilst recent episodes of sexual violence by migrants and second-generation citizens, feed a negative view of those who are different and who have apparently failed to integrate into our society and recognize our values.
Interreligious dialogue: a duty and a challenge
Now is the time to show that dialogue can contribute to society. Rejecting a view that interreligious dialogue is only relevant to a minority interest group, Pope Francis builds upon his predecessors, and reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium that: “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (EG, §250). But although dialogue is central to the approach of the Church as well as praised by many political and civic institutions, it is still a minority endeavour. Few people are trained to facilitate dialogue and many times are asked to do it on a voluntary basis thus considerably reducing the time and energies they can dedicate to it.
Sometimes there is also the risk of living interreligious dialogue at a very superficial level, without taking the necessary time to deepen one's knowledge of one’s own partner in dialogue or his/her faith. At other times, people who take part in interreligious activities are not clearly rooted in one faith tradition which makes it difficult to keep a consistent “inter-religious” approach. Finally, some people choose to follow an increasingly vocal anti-Islamic and anti-migrant approach.
Acknowledging the beauty of the other as a believer
Nonetheless there are many concrete experiences of dialogue inviting Christians and Muslims to meet and get to know each other and exchange views. The Sacred Heart Basilica is located in front of the main train station of Rome, a meeting point for many young refugees who have recently reached the city and still do not have a job. Seven years ago, the missionary project of the Basilica decided to provide spaces and organize activities to favour the process of socialization young refugees as a way to answer the call to serve and help the young and poor ones as the founder of the church and house did, Saint John Bosco. A number of services are offered including, orientation, Italian language school, IT school, as well as opportunities for young Italians and refugees to interact and spend time together.
Most Italian volunteers are Catholic and most refugees are Muslim. The desire to deepen this relationship and know more about the other’s faith was so strong for some that we started a series of interreligious meetings, convinced that it is important to welcome the “stranger” not only in his/her national diversity but also in his/her religious one. In the stranger one meets Christ himself, as the participants at the ecumenical conference on hospitality at the monastery of Bose recently reminded us. This is not a one-way process: migrants reaching Italy need both to express their cultural and religious identity, and to hear and discover what it means to local people to be Italian and Christian or Jewish or atheist. If this exchange does not take place, building a common society becomes quite unlikely.
In an increasingly diverse society from the point of view of religions, dialogue is both a means and a goal. A means to enter into a deeper relationship with the other and favour a respectful society, and a goal in itself. As Pope Benedict XVI commented on the role of interreligious dialogue during his apostolic journey to Benin in 2011 “[W]e enter into dialogue because we believe in God, the Creator and Father of all people. Dialogue is another way of loving God and our neighbour out of love for the truth”.
From a sociological and also political point of view, an interesting research study by Olivier Roy on the identity of the new wave of young jihadists who grew up in Europe, once again points to the importance of investing in dialogue, education and activities to support socialization and encounter.
We know how close the issue of migrants is to Pope Francis’ heart. Migrants should not only be only accepted in a country, they have to be integrated, as he commented on his way back from Colombia. His message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees 2018 insists once again on this point. Any message for a World Day is issued by the Pope many months before it is celebrated. This gives us the time to reflect and implement it. Our world needs to invest on the four actions Pope Francis suggests: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.
Coordinator of interreligious meetings at the Sacred Heart Basilica in Rome
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.